Hundreds of LGBT+ people and allies gathered in Glasgow’s George Square on Sunday to protest a visit by transphobic hate preacher Posie Parker, also known as Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, whose outdoor rally attracted a wide range of far-right figures and organisations. Two people who took part in the lively counter-protest — a trans woman and a cis man, both members of the Republican Socialist Platform — report for Heckle.
It must be said that, for much of the “debate” around trans issues, there have been cisgender (i.e. non-trans) people talking over us or about us — either attacking us under the guise of women’s rights or defending us. As a trans woman, I feel it is important to have someone of the affected community discuss the thoughts, feelings and politics of these events.
Sunday’s protest was organised by local LGBT+ groups and allies. The two at the core of it were Cabaret Against The Hate Speech and Furries Against Fascism, mostly made up of local trans/LGBT+ people from Glasgow, some I know personally, and from Ayrshire like myself. Stalls for mental wellbeing and safety information supported a few people who had panic attacks in the face of intimidation and hate aimed at them in person and in public.
After years of organising around the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill and other events, solidarity and discipline was very high, with only one or two instances of trouble, both of which were defensive. In one case, a placard was nearly snatched from transphobes who were deliberately trying to provoke us. Later in the day, young boys from Posie Parker’s crowd harassed and spied on us. Parker’s team worked with the police to secure their spot in the square, and those same police allowed them to approach us, including as people were leaving.
It was a bittersweet feeling, being around comrades, allies and close pals in the community. There was a feeling of morose sadness and anger under the surface as we recalled what our LGBT+ elders experienced in the 1980s and 1990s with Section 28 and the AIDS crisis. Many trans people felt anger after years of being attacked in the streets with hate crimes as well as structural violence by the NHS and government, including around the recent GRR law. In fact, many news outlets like the BBC framed Sunday as pro- and anti-GRR events, as if anything trans-related is now framed around the bill.
Many trans people, supporters and allies, including myself, felt fuel had been poured on the fire by Question Time on the Thursday night before the rally, as well as the prisoner ‘question’. The lack of media reporting on the fascism, blatant anti-trans posters and calls for real violence on Parker’s side will lead to deaths. The idea that those attending Parker’s rally are “locals” is silly, as we saw them leave the train station and bus stations, and saw them taking buses from England. You could say they are the real astro-terfs!
No politicians — including SNP or Green — joined the counter-protest to even see what was going on. Many supposedly pro-independence reactionaries like Wings Over Scotland are now collaborating with unionists and fascists. We must root out the anti-trans reactionary stances in the independence movement as many events have this kind of hate speech on show. Time to move from allies to accomplices for the new Scotland we want, with trans people like me in it.
Cabaret Against The Hate Speech, who organised Sunday’s counter-protest, is a loose group of LGBT+ people and allies who use community spirit, collective action and social solidarity to drown out hate speech propagated by reactionary groups. The main crux of the action was to sing, dance and promote a joyful alternative to the propaganda spread by the transphobes.
The hosts of the action maintained and reinforced a set of guidelines which ensured that no-one would be arrested. Many people did, however, give in to the temptation to respond directly, chanting and reiterating solidarity between protesters when some of the transphobes were able to approach us. I personally support both methods — passive and direct — in response to reactionary messages, and it is clearly in the synthesis between these two positions that anti-fascist actions can run most smoothly and effectively.
Beyond the singing and dancing, the hosts had additional set up a ‘wellbeing’ stall where people could ask for help regarding anything during the action, and be provided with a number of basic amenities like water and hand sanitiser. Additionally, there were a number of independent legal observers and stalls from other organisations, including Socialist Alternative.
One incident involving a transphobe attempting to shove their camera in people’s faces culminated in a barrage of arguments between them and the police. As far as word had spread, this incident didn’t escalate to anything further, and no-one heard from this person again throughout the action. There were a number of other incidents, however, where transphobes walked to the middle of the square and began filming the singing and dancing. Again, in these instances, allies didn’t rise to the provocation and avoided arrest.
The counter-protest was effective in a number of ways, but limited in others. The commitment to non-violent resistance and community spirit was the perfect antidote to the transphobes’ misery and hate-mongering. Anyone unaware of the action would see the stark difference in mood and colour between the two sides and recognise which side was that of the marginalised.
Despite this, we know the nature and history of these anti-trans organisations and the ways in which they have manipulated demonstrations, as well as the media and the police, for their own ends. Westminster’s response to the passing of Scotland’s GRR bill has emboldened transphobes to widen and increase their attacks on the trans community.
I would argue that without support from many other sections of the left, as well as trade unions and other organisations, counter-protests risk falling short when up against their full weight. It was crucial, and will continue to be crucial, that trans people, the wider LGBTQIA+ community and allies respond without question and without hesitation to every transphobic action.
Transphobia is hegemonic in the UK and throughout the world, and ‘gender critical’ transphobia in particular has been on the rise exponentially in recent years. It is endorsed by the Conservative government led by Rishi Sunak; championed by the mainstream media; and at the epicentre of the ‘culture war’ waged by the far-right. It must be challenged and drowned out as part of a comprehensive rejection of the modern form of fascism.
Heckle is overseen by a seven-person editorial board elected by members of the Republican Socialist Platform.